Perennials For Pollinators

  • Post published:01/22/2016
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Bee Balm
Monarda, bee balm

The first surprising thing I learned about perennials was that they do not bloom all summer. Some may bloom for as long as four weeks, and others may send up a second flush of bloom if you remember to cut them back after the first flush. This means that to keep a swath of perennial blooms for the whole garden season you will have to choose a variety of perennials that  will make timely appearances all season long. When I consider perennials for my new garden I am not only thinking about what I find beautiful, but about which will thrive in the conditions of my garden, and which will most benefit birds and pollinators.

So, to begin in the spring I am considering Veronica Crater Lake Blue, one of the few true blues in the garden. This dependable veronica produces 16 inch spikes of blue in the spring. A mass planting of that blue in sun or part shade will attract butterflies and hummingbirds. To go with that vivid blue, I am considering golden Alexanders, Zizia aurea, a native plant and member of the carrot family that doesn’t mind periodic wet and produces its lacy golden blooms from May into June. It usually doesn’t grow more than two feet.

White windflowers, Anemone sylvestris, are perfect for the wild garden. They are usually less than a foot tall and can take sun and shade. They are vigorous growers and will spread, but they also go dormant in the summer and can share their space with other perennials like epimediums or cranesbills. They like moist, but well drained soil, and I can arrange a spot like that. I also want to mention Anemone Honorine Jobert which blooms in late summer and well into the fall. This is an old white anemone with two to three inch golden eyed blossoms held on strong wiry three foot stems. It has been named the plant of the year 2016 by the Perennial Plant Association because it is beautiful, dependable, low maintenance and disease resistant. We must remember that this fragile looking beauty has real stamina.

Echinacea purpurea
Echinacea purpurea

As the season slips towards summer Echinacea, coneflower, and Monarda, bee balm come into bloom. Echinacea has become such a popular flower that there are now many cultivars. Several have fluffy moppy flowers; I don’t believe these are as useful in attracting bees and other pollinators as the simpler flower forms. However, there is a new series of coneflowers in bright colors that would liven up any summer garden. Echinacea Sombrero comes in a rainbow of bright colors, including Baja Burgundy that would catch the eye of any passing bee. I brought my own basic native Echinacea purpurea to Greenfield and will be happy to add some new excitement with bright new colors.

My Colrain Red, and a nameless wine-red bee balm in Heath attracted uncounted bees and their friends, as well as flocks of hummingbirds. A new monarda has caught my eye because it is billed as wet site tolerant. Cranberry Lace is a frilly, petite bee balm only a foot tall so is suitable for containers as well as the front of the border. It can also take a fair amount of the shade which moves across my new garden, but I can give it the necessary six hours of full sun.

Another small version of a popular perennial is Achillea Little Moonshine.  Many of us are familiar with the standard Moonshine yarrow which has such gentle yellow blossoms. Little Moonshine has the same richness, but it is no more than 12 inches tall and wide with a graceful mounding habit. Little Moonshine begins blooming at the beginning of summer and goes right through until September. If you cut it back after the first flush you will get even more blooms.

Woods Blue asters
Woods Blue asters

By the middle of August the fall bloomers begin. There are asters, like the tall, popular deep pink Alma Potschke, and classic lavender-blue Aster frikartii. An aster that is new to me is September Ruby a deep plumy pink with the familiar golden eye. It will grow four feet tall, and importantly for me, will tolerate a wet site. Equally important, asters attract butterflies with their nectar, but their foliage will also feed their larvae. Rabbit resistant. This is more important than I imagined. Even Greenfield has wild life that doesn’t mind nipping into the local gardens. I did bring a few roots of low growing Wood’s Blue aster with me from Heath because I like the way it acts as a flowery ground cover in the fall. It spreads vigorously and there are very few weeds to contend with in a patch of Wood’s Blue.

Rudbeckia hirta Prairie Sun doesn’t have the black or brown eye like the black eyed Susans, but the gold petals shading yellow are as bright as the autumn sun. They do need that sun to shine on them, but they like adequate water. I think I have that. Rudbeckias attract bees, butterflies and birds, but they are deer resistant. Chosen as an All America Selection winner in 2003 Prairie Sun is a sure winner for new gardeners. Annuals and perennials, old and new varieties, all have a place in every garden. Enjoy them both.

Between the Rows  January 16, 2016

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